Daily Breeze

April 15, 2005

Security funds slated for port complex

BY Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON  -- The Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex will get $6.7 million in a continuing effort to improve the security of cargo containers, federal officials announced Thursday.

The grant, included in $17.1 million awarded to three of the nation's largest ports by the Department of Homeland Security, is part of "Operation Safe Commerce." The program funds a collaborative effort by the ports, government agencies and businesses to identify, test and share information about measures to improve cargo and shipping security.

"Operation Safe Commerce takes a partnership approach to developing innovative new ways for ports to track and protect cargo entering the United States from all over the world," said Matt A. Mayer, acting executive director of the department's Office of State and Local Government Coordination and
Preparedness.

Port security has been a major concern since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Officials fear the thousands of cargo containers that pour into Los Angeles-Long Beach and other ports could be used to smuggle terrorists or weapons into the United States, including a nuclear, chemical or biological bomb.

The worries have been heightened recently by the discovery of dozens of illegal immigrants from China who were hidden in cargo containers at the Port of Los Angeles.

The two incidents "underscore how important it is to improve screening and security at the port complex," said Rep. Jane Harman, D-El Segundo, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "Our ports remain vulnerable to
those who would do us harm or wreak havoc on our economy. This funding will help increase the security of cargo containers without disrupting the vital flow of business."

Harman and other lawmakers questioned Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about the incident at a hearing this week.

"They were human smuggling rings, they weren't terrorist cells. But there were more people in each container than attacked us on 9/11. So it's a very, very serious problem," Harman said.

Chertoff said he was "disturbed" by the incidents and "it's something we're examining."

The other ports getting funds are New York-New Jersey and Seattle-Tacoma.